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Letter from Montpellier, a dance lover's paradise

June 28, 2009 | 10:56 am


While the world mourns Michael Jackson – and, yes, the late king of pop played this medieval city in 1988 – there is scant evidence of moonwalking at this year’s annual Montpellier Dance Festival.  There is, however, plenty of contemporary dance to get excited about in this 29th edition, again directed by Jean-Paul Montanari.

With 28 choreographers from 10 countries presenting 16 world premieres in as many days, this is a dance lover’s paradise. Some 30,000 spectators are expected to attend the festival, which ends July 4. And it's here that Angelin Preljocaj  took to the stage for the first time in 16 years in “Un Funambule” ("The Tightrope Walker").

Based on a Jean Genet poem, the 70-minute premiere proved a coming-out party for the French-born Albanian, whose Ballet Preljocaj recently wowed audiences at UCLA’s Royce Hall and whose mellifluous recitation added dimension to an athletically rich movement vocabulary.
With the recent success of his full-length ballet “Snow White,” Preljocaj has said he’s had more time to spend alone in the studio.  And, at age 52, he told me: “To use my body now is like stopping at the last station before the highway.”
And what a ride it was: Set to an eclectic score, including snippets of Tchaikovsky and Elliot Goldenthal, the piece is a meditation on love, death, and being an artist.  Gliding across a stage strewn with large rolls of butcher paper, the elfin choreographer swooped about effortlessly, tossing off turns and cartwheels before balancing on a lighting grid and speaking of the need for prayer.  Wielding a knife in one sequence with a nod to his Balkan roots, Preljocaj ended the neo-funhouse scenario by showering himself with gold glitter.

It's an apt metaphor in a town where dance, a glittering art form, has never seemed more alive.

-- Victoria Looseleaf, reporting from Montpellier, France

Photo: Angelin Preljocaj. Credit: Jean-Claude Carbonne